Whoosh! Issue 48 - September 2000

DON'T MIND THE LADIES:
LESBIAN FANFIC AS AN OLD- FASHIONED ROMANCE

By Bongo Bear
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
2629 words



Meet The Leaders Of The Pack (01-03)
Archetypes: Love Is In Their Cards (04)
     The Female Archetypes (05-09)
     The Male Archetypes (10-14)
     Archetype Interaction (15-21)
Romance, XenaVerse Style (22-27)
Bedtime Stories (28-33)
Swimming In The Mainstream (34)
Notes
Bibliography
Biography



Don't Mind the Ladies:
Lesbian Fanfic as an Old-Fashioned Romance



It's all sweetness on the honeymoon, then you drag your partner across Greece and apply a chakram to her head

The kiss that launched a thousand fanfics.



Meet The Leaders Of The Pack

[1] Straight and gay women alike are drawn to what we have in common -- we are all in love with being in love. The common craving for sentimental sensuality is what fuels the popularity of romantic fiction. Romance is the key concept for understanding certain kinds of Alternative Fan Fiction, known in the Xenaverse vernacular as Altfic. Altfic is a rather broad designation covering traditional literary genres from action/adventure to erotica to romance to pornography to comedy. All a story has to do is portray Xena and Gabrielle as lesbians for it to be called Altfic. One Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) fan fiction sub-genre, Romantic Friendship, skirts the line because the leads are closer than friends, but they are not lovers. Of these literary genres, a goodly majority of Altfic is romance, albeit of the soap opera variety for many novel length fan fictions.

[2] Traditional romance has a very conservative style with stock characters and plot resolutions -- in other words, a formula. Part of the formula is that the Alpha Male and Alpha Female meet, fall in love, have some adventures, and get it on. Of course, they live happily ever after.

[3] Alpha Male and Alpha Female are beautiful and fascinating people who have cool jobs, fast cars, and million dollar condos in New York, Paris, or London, or a Scottish castle keep for those popular period pieces. They are NOT going to be the boy and girl next door. If they were, they would be Beta Male and Beta Female, like Barney and Betty Rubble, or Joxer and Meg. If the lead female happens to live next door, her true Alpha nature will move her into the castle by the end of the story.


Archetypes: Love Is In Their Cards

[4] Altfic puts a twist into this genre by pairing up TWO Alpha Females. Xena or the UberXena of fan fiction can easily be mistaken for an Alpha Male in drag. However, a deeper look reveals a dynamic between Xena and Gabrielle that is one of women in different stages or aspects of their lives. These romantic archetypes are discussed in Suzette L. Mako's series of essays "In Defense of Romance" [Note 01].


The Female Archetypes

[5] The female archetypes of traditional romantic fiction are:

  1. Neophyte or Maiden Questor
    [6] Mako describes her as "the child on the verge of womanhood, the learner and seeker... she [must] change and grow as a result of her quest". The female reader can most easily identify with this character since every girl grows into a woman.

    Ancient hoky-poky

    Amazons are a sure ratings booster, both on screen and in fanfic.


  2. Amazon or Warrior Woman
    [7] Mako's Warrior Woman "[gives] as good as she gets" to the true warrior of heterosexual romances, the man in shining armor. In the Xenaverse, the Warrior Woman IS the hero. As a reformed warlord, Xena exemplifies a woman's darker, negative emotions and channels her power for good rather than evil.

  3. Mother
    [8] This archetype may nurture either an actual child or the hero, as in a hurt/comfort story. Ideally, this role is not subservient to the hero but exposes the hero's vulnerability and accessibility as a person rather than as an icon.

  4. Priestess or Sorceress
    [9] Such a woman exudes "gravitas" and fearlessly throws her weight around. Men may or may not recognize a Priestess' status. Often times, such a woman is an unnatural creature of supernatural origins, a Witch of the evil persuasion. Morgan Le Fay of Arthurian legend is the classic example. Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists Of Avalon (New York, 1982) turns the King Arthur legend on its male-centric head and presents Morgan Le Fay as a Sorceress full of compassion and power, a woman's Merlin.


The Male Archetypes

[10] The complementary male archetypes of traditional romantic fiction are:

  1. Questor
    [11] He is not necessarily an immature male but one who must overcome some obstacle and thereby achieve personal realization. Hercules performing his Twelve Labors is an obvious Questor.

  2. Warrior
    [12] The Warrior is ALWAYS the Alpha Male. Beta Males are the water boys of archetypes.

  3. Father
    [13] Father roles are unusual in traditional Romances, showing up only after the male hero has bonded with the female. Sometimes he appears when caring for someone or something weak and helpless, like a child or injured animal. Is Xena daddy or mommy when she feeds Argo an apple and lovingly brushes her down? What about when Xena comforts and caresses an injured Gabrielle?

  4. Priest or Wizard

    [14] Unlike the Warrior, his power is spiritual and, as such, seeks strength from within.


Archetype Interaction

[15] In traditional romance, the Neophyte or Maiden undergoes an internal journey and discovers her hero at the end. Contrast that with First Time Altfic in which Xena undergoes a graphically detailed journey of Gabrielle's interior. The results are the same. Gabrielle emerges having found her potential as a sexually and emotionally mature woman. In later stories, Gabrielle may become the Amazon archetype, but, in her relationships with Xena, she remains the Beta Amazon.

[16] Xena starts off as the Amazon or Warrior Woman and rarely deviates from that archetype. In some stories like T. Novan's Raising Melosa Series, Xena is the Mother archetype. But prick her skin and the Amazon comes roaring out.

[17] Tension built on sexual differences is a cornerstone of traditional romance. An Altfic writer must create a different tension between women. When one female archetype meets another in the Xenaverse, the relationship is rarely on a completely equal footing, especially in Classical Xena and Gabrielle stories. A Warrior clashes with the Neophyte. The Mother quarrels with a Priestess. This is ironically a very different dynamic from heterosexual romances in which more disparity is expected but instead complementary archetypes are usually paired or at least transformed into the same archetype by the end of the story.

[18] In contemporary Ubers, women enjoy a greater range of acceptable societal roles, so the more obvious status difference between UberXena and UberGabrielle does not seem as large [Note 02]. Both can be doctors, but one is a resident and the other is head of the department.

[19] Some bards create more equivalent characters status-wise and find other ways to create tension. Women from vastly different professions or personalities are paired for maximum incompatibility. Sharon Bowers pits a brooding undercover DEA agent against an investigative reporter in her contemporary noir Uber, Lucifer Rising. The Altfic is full of such odd couples.

[20] Often times, the tension is resolved upon the insightful discovery that their diametrically opposite personalities or philosophies are actually complementary strengths. As a result, the characters develop mutual respect for each other. They regard each other as equal partners. This particular aspect of Altfic, unlike the TV series that spawned this literary genre, strictly adheres to traditional romantic plot resolutions.

[21] However the conflict is defined, the tension must be between the leads to be a romantic story. If it has an Us-Against-the-World theme, the story is not a romance, but a buddy story that happens to have lesbian protagonists.


Romance, XenaVerse Style

Xena, you're hurting me.  Again!

One of many campfire scenes.


[22] How does romantic Altfic differ from traditional romance?

[23] Gender bending liberates women, especially in period pieces. The Alpha female may shed her skirt and don breeches if doing so gives her greater freedom within society. Cross-dressing also increases the potential for adventure, whereas a woman cloistered in her room and weaving all day would not. Classical Xena and Gabrielle stories are technically period pieces since they are set in ancient Greece. However, our heroes do not have to give up their skirts, which are merely superficial badges of femininity. Their aggressive, kick-*ss attitude and behavior give them all the masculinity they need to keep the action moving right along.

[24] The Alpha Male and Female take on each other's personality traits in traditional romances. The man embraces his feminine side, and likewise the woman discovers her masculine aspects. Altfic's version of Xena and Gabrielle, or their respective Ubers, are less polarized in terms of their gender traits, so their relative masculinity or femininity is usually unchanged by the story's conclusion. A notable exception to this might be Susan Smith's Of Drag Kings And A Warrior Princess.

[25] Darwinism explains why the Alpha Male wants a virginal Alpha Female. Such arguments are moot in the Xenaverse. When Classical Xena and Gabrielle Altfic first hit the Net, a plethora of First Time stories led the way. In 1997, a second wave came through with the Ubers. First Time stories are on the rise again as the newest batch-o-bards pound the keyboards. Why are bards deflowering Gabrielle over and over again? Why do bards often debut with a First Time tale? The Virgin is an archetype. The state of sexual innocence does not necessarily represent purity, but an untapped potential. Bards may have been expressing an unconscious desire to dispense with Gabrielle's virginity so the writer can get on with the next story. The unknown potential is as much in the bard's first story as it is in Gabrielle's first time.

[26] The whole point of traditional romantic fiction is that women merge with their chosen soulmates to achieve their life goals. Contrast this premise with Altfic in which the soulmates are pre-destined. All but a few bards regard a pre-packaged, pre-measured soulmate as the romantic ideal.

[27] The Lunacy Factor of fan fiction epitomizes the persistent need for one and the only ONE soulmate [Note 03]. Most Altfic stories take Xena and Gabrielle's soulmatedness for granted because the concept is such an integral part of the romance genre. The odd quirk about Xenaverse soulmatedness is that the lucky gal is practically a genetic inevitability. As their Uber incarnations, the women return again and again to fall in love through either their descendants or hapless doppelgangers. Ksp's Uber Uberalles Ubers takes a hilarious look at this Altfic canon.


Bedtime Stories

[28] Why do romances tell the same stories over and over again? Why are they so formula-driven? Consider "Little Red Riding Hood", a child's tale told with evolutionary revisions from generation to generation. Such tales are as formulaic as any romance because they are full of archetypes and not-too-subtle lessons. They explain what a particular culture values and what it fears. Fairy tales can have the staying power of mythology.

[29] Archetypal stories also set very specific expectations for the reader. A child who objects to the Three Bears snacking on Goldilocks may be appalled as an adult if Xena and Gabrielle miss their climax in an Altfic romance.

[30] Like Anne Rice's erotic Sleeping Beauty series [Note 04], romantic Altfic is an adult fairy tale through which the bard expresses her own beliefs and ideals about loving relationships. One of these ideals is that lesbian lovers are as unremarkable as any heterosexual couple. This is an unspoken premise of almost all Altfic, romantic or not, and it is the significant differentiator from traditional heterosexual romance.

[31] What other romantic ideals are espoused in Altfic? Ubers would lead most readers to believe that true love comes in pairs: blue eyes meet green, black tresses tangle with blonde, and a soft small body melts into a strong tall one. This is not an ideal, but an unintended byproduct of writing pre-designated characters. Nonetheless, such predictable pairings yield a deeper meaning: out there, somewhere, a special person waits for you and you alone.

[32] Sex is not everything. Really. Xena is rarely portrayed as starved for sex. However, she is hungry for intimacy and love, which Gabrielle gives in abundance. The love in a loving sexual relationship is what distinguishes romance and more graphic erotica from pornography. The sweet, mushy, gushy love in a typical romantic Altfic will rot the most stout of molars.

[33] Finally, one more ideal: True Love can soften the hardest of hearts, warm the coldest of cockles, and even conquer the Conqueror Xena.


Swimming In The Mainstream

[34] Thus, popular romantic Altfic is surprisingly faithful to the conventions of traditional romance. The presence of lesbian leads does not really put much of a unique twist into romance, a well worn and, more importantly, well-accepted literary genre. Perhaps this is why so many straight female XWP fans can embrace fictional lesbians falling in love. As long as the scented candles flicker around the hot tub and thick cave walls muffle the sounds of delight, romance is romance is romance.


Notes

Note 01:
For more information about romantic archetypes, read Suzette L. Mako's essay "Facets of the Feminine Psyche: The Romance's Psychological Landscapes, Part 1"
Return to article

Note 02:
The following quote defining Uber is taken from Kym Taborn's essay "What is This ... Uber.

"In June 1997, Xena fan fiction writers took the concepts presented in these three episodes [DREAMWORKER (03/103), REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202), and THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210)], and made the leap that the characters of Xena and Gabrielle were in fact archetypes that could be explored in different times and diverse cultural backgrounds. This phenomena could also be seen as an attempt at rewriting women's mythology of the past - creating new versions of past, present, and future, and using Xena and Gabrielle as the archetypal hero and companion exploring these new views of the old stories and stereotypes previously dominated by male characters."
Return to article

Note 03:
The following quote defining the Lunacy Factor is taken from Kym Taborn's Whoosh! article "A Chronological Survey of the Fiction of Bongo Bear".

"The Lunacy Factor is a term referring to the famous Xena fan fiction reviewer's rule that she would only read specific types of Xena fan fiction, and consequently only would review those types on her immensely popular website. She required that only Xena and Gabrielle be with each other and that they would be together at the end of the story -- no killing them off, no wild times with others, etc."
Return to article

Note 04:
The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy was written by Anne Rice under her pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure. The books are: The Claiming Of Sleeping Beauty (New York, 1983), Beauty's Punishment (New York, 1984), and Beauty's Release (New York, 1985).
Return to article


Bibliography

Suzette L. Mako, "In Defense of Romance"
Collection of essays

T. Novan, "Raising Melosa Series"

Susan Smith, "Of Drag Kings And A Warrior Princess"

"Uber Uberalles Uber"



Biography

Bongo Bear Bongo Bear
Bongo Bear is not really bear, but a fan fiction writer turned Whoosh! contributor. Moving up in life.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) and BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302)
Favorite line: "That's my piece of meat you're reaching for." Thunk. THE DEBT II (53/307)
First episode seen: THE GAUNTLET (H12/112)
Least favorite episode: FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216)

Bongo Bear has previously written for Whoosh!:
"Anachronism Be Damned: A XWP Historiography Part IV: Ancient Greek Science: Mathematics, Astronomy, and Medicine", by Carolyn Bremer and Bongo Bear #30 (9903)

Bongo Bear was interviewed in Whoosh!:
"Twenty-Seven Grilled Bards and One Reviewer: Rare, Medium, and Supertoasty", by J. C. Wilder, Whoosh! #25 (9810)

Bongo Bear was the Guest Editor for Whoosh!:
Issue #46

Bongo Bear's fan fiction was discussed in Whoosh!:
"A Chronological Survey of the Fiction of Bongo Bear" by Kym Masera Taborn in Whoosh! issue #46

See also

Lunacy, "The History Of Xena Fan Fiction On The Net", Whoosh #25 (October 1998)
http://whoosh.org/issue25/lunacy1.html

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